My blog on bicycling and instructional coaching lays out some key ideas for helping new teachers grow. I’d like to expend on the idea of identifying and using a new teacher’s strengths.
Whether I’m on my bike or in a classroom, one of my strengths is planning ahead. To avoid problems with forgetting to unclip my bike shoes from the pedals before stopping (see the first blog…), I planned out my rides—clip for the uninterrupted one-way paths and unclip where the streets, walking paths and biking trails intersect between the lakes. And, the first time on any route, I skip the pedal clips rather than trust that I’ll remember to unclip as needed. Often, great planners struggle to be spontaneous. And, people who flex easily when plans aren’t working seldom love to plan.
Self-understanding lets us capitalize on these kinds of insights. For example, a veteran teacher excelled at setting schedules or estimating how long activities would take. She could easily motivate students with reality-based promises such as, “I know all of you can finish this within 10 minutes. Let’s work hard and that will give us extra time to finish a read-aloud chapter.” A new teacher on her team tried the same technique but found that her estimates were off. ;She didn’t have time for the story, which of course demotivated her students. She decided to develop a variety of motivational techniques, such as novel call-response sayings and friendly contests such as, “The first five pairs with unique answers can write their solutions on the window” (wet-erase markers can provide motivation!)
Similarly, teachers can benefit by considering whether they naturally emphasize rigor or building relationships with students. A new teacher on the “relationship” side wanted to greet each student at the door every day, but then struggled to get his classes settled down and on task. He was also great at planning, though, and started posting warm-up activities, making expectations clear that students would be working on these the instant the bell rang.
Help new teachers identify what they’re good at—planning, relationships, timing, content. Make sure they can list several things and believe in their own ability to be effective! Then help them brainstorm how to use these strengths to tackle the problems that concern them most!